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Robotic Warfare Making Its Way to Battlefield

Posted February. 06, 2009 09:13,   


Robotic warfare is moving from the silver screen to the battlefield as U.S. armed forces are stepping up efforts to develop cutting-edge military robots.

▽ Reconnaissance to combat

Peter Singer, a military expert at the Brookings Institution, gave extensive information on military robots used by American forces in the latest edition of “The Wilson Quarterly.”

While fighting terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the U.S. military has made significant advances in robotics in both quality and quantity.

When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, American forces had a couple of reconnaissance planes but no robots for ground operations. Today, the U.S. military has 12,000 ground robots of 22 types and 5,300 unmanned military aerial vehicles.

On the ground, PackBots, or scout robots equipped with cameras and sensors, are helping reduce casualties in the battlefield. Another type of scout robot “Talon” has even combat capability with an automatic rifle and small rockets.

In the sky, the midsize plane “Reaper” and large model “Predator” can track an enemy’s every move and even attack them with missiles and bombs. Tiny reconnaissance planes weighing 400 grams fly over the battlefield.

The U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force are scrambling to develop next-generation war robots.

The Army will spend 230 billion dollars to complete the Future Combat Systems program by 2015.

The Navy is developing small unmanned submarines and unmanned speedboats to fight pirates.

The Air Force is coming up with a massive unmanned airship to act as a floating air base on the one hand, and subminiature scout planes weighing less than 10 grams on the other.

France, Germany and Israel have also joined the race for “warbot” development.

▽ “Warbots” to break rules of war

Robot engineers say humanoid robots will be deployed by 2020. The U.S. Joint Operation Command said such robots will have the ability to independently judge the situation in the battlefield and counter attack as early as 2025.

If things go as planned, robots will be deployed along with soldiers and could even replace humans. “We are today at the start of the greatest revolution that warfare has seen since the introduction of atomic bombs,” said Singer.

The change, however, will challenge international rules on war and ethics. Who should be responsible for damage caused by misjudgment by autonomous robots? This is a question humankind should solve in an era of robotic warfare, he said.

“It makes us look like the evil empire (from the Star Wars movies) and the other guys like the rebel alliance if they defend themselves versus robot invaders,” Singer added.